As the shadow cabinet were camped out in Brighton’s hotel’s trying to kickstart their policy campaign at the Labour party conference, I joined a small but eager group of publishing people in an independent café to discuss our own policies on how to encourage more people to read and reinvent the often struggling but wonderful book industry.
BookMachine Brighton was sponsored by Completely Novel.com and coincided with similar events across the globe. Brighton and nearby Lewes are a hotbed of publishing talent and it was great to be amongst budding or established writers, publishers, designers, editors and book packagers from across Sussex. The event was first and foremost a networking event but we needed a focal point and luckily that came with guest speaker Julia Kingsford (CEO of World Book Night) who hit us immediately with an opening stat shocker.
In a recent survey of people’s reading habits, 35% choose not to read … anything. Now maybe this high figure isn’t that surprising or perhaps it’s no different to 30 years ago. 21st-century time is precious to us all, relaxation is TV and wine, social time is getting out, keeping fit, tweeting, surfing, gaming, texting. The free time we once had (or thought we did) is no more. Or if we have it, for a huge number of us, reading is not on the agenda.
Of course for us publishing people, that’s not good news. We need to encourage children, young adults, parents and the like to get into a good book. It doesn’t have to be fiction and of course these days it doesn’t have to be a printed book either – the scope for digital and interactive publishing is there for all to see.
There are positive signs. UK schools nationally are adopting a Drop Everything And Read scheme. World Book Night encourages book swaps and people to visit their local libraries (surely a good thing in this age of austerity). Obviously, reading with young children can help to instil a lifelong love of books and every couple of years a new series of teen books sweeps the globe to appeal to a young readership. But if you don’t want to read, what can tempt you?
Having always worked on non-fiction reference books for a wordwide market using our maps and infographics, and having recently moved into packaging sports books, I know that publishers are quick to jump on a new craze. Cycling, triathlon and running books are titles we’ve worked on in the past few years and they certainly attract ‘non-readers’ . Celebrity endorsed lifestyle titles are as popular as ever but some readers want more than just a printed page, so digital books with interactive options are potentials to get more people clicking ‘add to basket’.
Publishing seems to be in a permanent state of transition but events like Book Machine are an enjoyable and positive way to connect with fellow book producers ‘face to face’ and together we can hopefully encourage that 35% to start reading again.